thinking like a product designer

by Luke Farrugia • 11 November 2020


There is no one-size-fits-all process; often, we need to modify our approach based on time, budget and resources. Regardless of this, we tend to think in a methodical way as set out to solve a problem, big or small. To gain a deeper understanding of how Product Designers think, we have put this post together to explain one of our key frameworks, the double diamond.

This is post 2 of a 2 part series which aims to demystify this and how we design within our cross-functional teams. If you haven't seen post 1, you can find it here, what does a product designer do and how do we fit into cross-functional teams?

the double diamond

We are problem solvers, and as Product Designers, we often face ambiguity as we try to define the problem space (a general problem that has not yet been validated or narrowed down). To decipher the chaos and remain on track, we leverage user experience (UX) frameworks. These frameworks provide mental models and processes that help us navigate through the ambiguity.

The Double Diamond is an accessible process that combines principles of divergent and convergent thinking. Encouraging a broad exploration of ideas and concepts before refining and narrowing down, forming a diamond shape.

Starting with the problem space, the first diamond focusses on discovery. Starting off wide and then narrowing down to a defined problem statement. From there, the second diamond begins, focussing on developing ideas. Here we ideate to produce a variety of concepts which can be narrowed down into a solution ready to be prototyped and tested.

The Double Diamond is an iterative framework, where concepts and ideas are developed and tested over time. With each iteration, we test, analyse and learn, refining our thinking and enhancing the experience with each iteration.

discovery - explore the problem

In the beginning, we start with a general problem space or a hunch. At this stage, the problem is still broad, and we aim to refine this problem down to a group of specific themes based on our users' needs.

As we enter the first diamond, we begin with the Discovery phase, here our goal is to validate or de-validate our general problem space. We do this through UX research, gathering insights to help us inform a specific problem set. This step is an essential part of creating a solid foundation for a project.

When developing a research plan, we collaborate closely with our cross-functional team and begin with a research canvas. This canvas enables us to extract all of the current knowns and unknowns, determine what we want to learn, and help define the most suitable research method/s to validate our assumptions.

When conducting UX research, we want to identify and validate our assumptions to ensure that we are solving a problem that exists for our users. We do this by exploring our user's needs, behaviours, motivations, and goals within their context.

To effectively validate our assumptions, we look to both quantitative (a measure of quantity based on numerical data) and qualitative (a measure of quality based on perceptions and feelings) to round out our thinking. As we gather and interpret the data, we extract insights and themes. These themes are then prioritised and used to inform the design process, ensuring that we are designing for the user and not ourselves.

By the end of this phase, we should have a synthesised list of insights that are prime and ready to be played back to the cross-functional (generally consist of representatives from Engineering, Product Management, Marketing and Design) team for discussion.

Some common research methods include:

  • Desktop research
  • Benchmarking
  • Interviews
  • Usability testing
  • Surveys
  • Diary studies
  • Card sorting
  • Focus groups

To action these research methods, we also:

  • Analyse existing research
  • Recruit participants
  • Prepare and run research sessions
  • Synthesis and analyse findings
  • Playback insights and make recommendations
define - decide what to fix

With sufficient findings and insights in hand, it's time to move forward into the Define phase. Here we are starting to narrow down and decide on what we need to fix to improve the experience. When running through this part of the process, there are a few factors to consider. As a Product Designer, we make sure that we are aware of our user's needs. But, we also need to take into account the business goals, how this feature or update may be built, what effect it may have on the brand position as well as understand the marketability of the change.

We capture or surface this information within a project brief, which is created in collaboration with the cross-functional team to ensure all parties are aligned and understand what the initiative is trying to achieve, who is responsible for each milestone and how the team may approach it. Through this process, it is imperative that we closely collaborate with each stakeholder to ensure that their needs and motivations are accounted for early.

By the end of this phase, the cross-functional team and external stakeholders should be aligned and confident to move forward into the ideation phase.

A project brief often consists of:

  • Problem specifics - A description of the problem or opportunity
  • Scope of the project – What is known, assumed or hypothesised
  • Project goals - The expected goals and outcomes of the project
  • Target user/s – Who will be affected by this project?
  • What success looks like – How do we define success, and how will success be measured?
  • Background information – Gathered information on competitors, exploration areas and already conducted research findings
  • The approach - How we plan to tackle the project, including; process, timing, resources and budget
  • Collaboration points - Identifying the decision-makers, key stakeholders, responsibilities and dependencies
develop - generate ideas

When moving into the Develop phase, we start to further our thinking and generate ideas based on what we learnt in the research. This is done to hone in on the desires, needs and challenges of users. We call this idea generation, “ideation”, and see this as a collaborative step.

When kicking off ideation, it's essential to playback the synthesised research and specific problem statement to the group (determined in the first diamond). From there, we can generate ideas through various activities which can be created through the spoken or written word, or through visual sketching or storyboarding.

As the Product Designer, it is our responsibility to collaborate with the cross-functional team and key stakeholders when ideating. This collaboration allows for a broader range of thought and discussion, which should aid in generating a diverse set of ideas and concepts. Essentially, boosting the team's alignment and buy-in on the process while also producing a bunch of different or conflicting ideas to expand, discuss and prioritise.

When prioritising, we tend to use the user-centred design (UCD) framework, which focuses on three critical aspects when choosing ideas or concepts to further explore. Through this method, we try to balance the desirability (user lens), the viability (business lens) and the feasibility (technical lens) of the idea or concept to ensure a realistic outcome.

Several core techniques can be leveraged with running an ideation session, these include:

  • Sketching
  • Storyboarding
  • Mind mapping ideas
  • User flow mapping
  • Information architecture mapping
  • Open floor discussions
deliver - prototype, test, iterate, repeat

As the ideas are refined and prioritised, we are ready to kick off the Deliver phase. Here we prototype (a rough version of what we think the final solution might be), test and iterate on our ideas until we have a refined solution to the specific problem.

Working with prototypes allows us to quickly transform an abstract idea into a tangible artefact that can be tested with users. This method is excellent for gathering early feedback on an idea, without the need to invest a great deal of time into the design or build.

Prototypes come in different forms and fidelities, which can range from paper sketch prototypes to a clickable built digital prototype. When running through this phase, it is vital to get into the mindset of being fast and scrappy, removing any attachment to an idea and being open to rapid change. When prototyping, the aim is to open discussion and surface feedback at different points of the design process. These insights should be captured and factored back into the prototype as they are iterated on.

The fidelity chain of a prototype increases as the project progresses, and often the process calls for a low, medium and high fidelity prototype.

The range of fidelity can be broken down like this:

  • Lo-fi prototyping - Rough and scrappy, used to open discussion and validate an idea in isolation
  • Mid-fi prototyping - The validated approach situated within the product or service eco-system, still scrappy but enough detail included to validate the idea within the context
  • Hi-fi prototyping - Adding refinement and polish to the validated solution, moving from scrappy to a sleek branded user interface

In-between each point of the fidelity chain (low, mid and high) we user test to capture insights and validate our thinking.

When user testing, we engage users and ask them to perform a range of tasks or scenarios. As a user runs through the tasks, it's essential that they verbally express their thoughts and as the Product Designer, it's our role to record the process. At the end of the task, we ask questions to prod in a little deeper or circle back to any observed problems or frustrations the user may have had. These are then analysed and grouped into themes, which can form recommendations that lead to the next iteration.

Some common usability testing methods include:

  • Un-moderation testing
  • Moderated testing
  • Guerrilla testing - approaching users on the street or coffee shop for example

To action these usability testing methods, we also:

  • Recruit participants
  • Prepare and run usability testing sessions
  • Synthesis and analysing findings
  • Map insights and make recommendations

In conclusion, we do a lot of thinking, collaborating and then “designing” or prototyping. Prior to producing wireframes, UI decisions and flows, there is a level of understanding that we must uncover and align on. An understanding of the problem space, how it affects our users and how we might go about solving this problem.

It's important to note that this method can be used for the smallest task all the way to the largest task, there are no rules. The level of depth needed and steps used to achieve an end solution are not fixed and should be modified and adjusted to meet the collaborative needs of the cross-functional team.

If you have any questions, comments or would like to chat, feel free to reach out via our duel of doves community.

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